The Millennial Influence

Fickle, aloof, volatile, — these are all words commonly used to describe the millennial demographic. Marketers have struggled, and written about their struggles, to connect with a generation who came of age with Facebook and expects the Uber-ization of, well, everything. Millennials’ digital savvy has simultaneously intimidated and captivated brands. This age group has shifted the balance of power, and with each new declaration of their elusiveness, their upper hand in the relationship looms larger. As the leaders of the social age, millennials are attractive to brands for their cultural knowledge and persuasion. Some people dismiss the value of millennials as being simply smoke and mirrors — it seems brand-affirming to have millennial fans, but is it actually benefiting business? The answer is yes. Millennials offer much more than vanity boosting for brands.  According to Social Media Week, this demographic maintains $1.3 Trillion in annual buying power. This impressive amount should be enough to quash any lingering doubts as to whether the millennial demographic should be a focal point among brands. 

Millennials are good at filtering — and not just Instagram photos. Millennials were the first generation to grow up with a cell phone in hand and 24/7 access to the internet, which means that they were bombarded by more ads across more platforms at an impressionable age. This early exposure has made them expert at automatically filtering out the ads and brand messages that are worth their time, and those that aren’t. They have expertly crafted their own, personal B.S./phony detectors that instinctively judge branded content at first pass. Millennials expect more from brand interactions, and they have little to no patience when brands come up short. An aggregated study, Content Marketing Best Practices Among Millennials, from Yahoo, DigitasLbi, Razorfish and Tumblr, uncovered millennial values in regards to brand messaging. The study reported that millennials care about emotional payout, rewards and multitasking when consuming brand content. Additionally, as a result of their always-on mobile lifestyles, the millennial brain can quickly distinguish the content that supports those values from the content that does not want. Just as fast as their thumbs scroll through an Instagram feed, their brains decipher the value-add of a message.

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Brands don’t have the luxury of extended time or attempts to woo this younger crowd. The stakes are higher than ever for companies to produce. More so than previous generations, millennials know what they want out of content, and are in complete control; the pressure is on for brands to create experiences that speak to the millennial mind.

Content Marketing Best Practices Among Millennials also includes telling statistics that clearly show how passionately this age group cares about the emotional experience of the content. According to the study, branded content wins if it is entertaining, funny, fresh, and, easily digestible. Millennials want emotionally satisfying experiences but they want it in quick hits. At any given moment of the day, the millennial attention span is being split multiple ways among various messages and screens. They are at full capacity and there is no room for content that does not deliver.

So, how can brands make it through the millennial meter? Authenticity and value.


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Millennials crave real, authentic stories. They’ve seen every ad and heard every pitch, but what still has the potential to pique their interests are genuine accounts of interactions with brands and products. Hearing and seeing the ways in which a product was able to have a significant impact on a real person can stop seen-it-all, heard-it-all cynicism in its tracks.  Witnessing a real person tell a true story makes it easy to project oneself on their experience. For example, it’s easy to write off a clever ad from a furniture company depicting a perfectly polished living room. While the aesthetic may be pleasing, the sentiment does not resonate because the story is being told, not by a person, but by a brand. On the other hand, real stories about these products from real people can carry emotional weight.  

We all remember walking through the door of our first apartment. The moment was ripe with anticipation, anxiety, excitement and a twinge of fear. We had the keys to that empty apartment, but it didn’t feel like home yet — it wouldn’t feel like home until we had filled it with furniture and objects that reflected our basic needs and personal tastes.  It was the moment when we first felt responsible for creating a home for ourselves and, ultimately, for creating a life for ourselves. The specifics vary from person to person, but the emotions that are tied to that moment are universal.

An influencer reminiscing on that moment, and then discussing the specific items they purchased, or would purchase today, to turn their first apartment into their first home is more than just an empty promotion, it’s a personal testimony of a brand or product’s ability to transform quality of life.  

Do you want to connect with millennials? Then, you’ll have to look beyond your product for a solution because real connections require real people. Much like millennials themselves, influencer marketing is a practice that revolves around society’s increasing social inclinations.  Millennials already spend their time seeking out content from individual creators  that is inspiring, entertaining, informative or thought-provoking. So why not tap into the commanding grip that influencer’s have on millennial screens – and opinions – and speak to millennials through the people that they already like and trust.  Influencers haven’t made digital names for themselves by jumping into brand promotions and hocking every product on the market. Influencers have spent great amounts of time developing their voice, aesthetic and credibility with audiences. The level of trust that can exist between actual people cannot be replicated in the brand-consumer relationship, but it can be leveraged for the good of both brand and consumer.

In 2014, marketing solution platform Social Chorus conducted a survey, in an attempt to better understand the millennial mind. What they found solidified the notion marketers had long feared. According to the survey, only 6% of millennials believe online ads to be credible. Simply put, brand ads are not connecting or compelling millennials. Regardless of how compelling the message or eye-popping the creative, online brand ads are not trusted because they serve, first and foremost, the brand. Millennials recognize that the primary goal of every ad is to sell a product over benefitting a consumer’s lifestyle. There exists an innate bias against more traditional advertising, and rather than fighting against, brands would be better off spending their time and budget by acquiescing to these new standards and investing in solutions that have the potential to forge real engagement.

Millennial Influence is a Two-Way Street

To be a good influencer, one must stay on the cutting edge of all things social because influence, or, significant influence at that, is rarely accrued on a singular digital platform. Younger creators, who also happen to be digital natives, seem to fluidly and effortlessly evolve with each platform’s frequent changes. Today’s platforms are so deeply ingrained in everything a young professional does, from socializing to networking and learning. For a millennial to remain out of the loop on the latest Instagram and Snapchat trends, is for a millennial to be somewhat of an outlier among their generation. Social media is the lifeblood of millennials…and vice-versa.

Millennials are already using social media platforms to enhance their personal and professional lives. Thanks to Instagram, Snapchat and Vine, social media has become more than just a means of facilitating connections, it’s become a platform for creation. This age group turns to their social accounts to exercise their creativity and showcase what they are capable of doing. Instagram has sparked a new generation of amateur photographers, poets, illustrators, models and comics. There’s an unprecedented opportunity for brands to connect with an elusive demographic using the very people they’re trying to target. They’re already creating, so brands would be wise to align with this demographic and publish content created by and for their target audiences.  



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